The issue of mandating vaccine passports became the talk of town anew following the recently concluded Miss Universe 2021. Philippines’ representative Beatrice “Bea” Luigi Gomez’s was asked about her opinion on mandating universal vaccine passports during the Question and Answer (Q&A) portion of the pageant.

The beauty queen answered, “I believe that public health is everyone’s responsibility, and to mandate inoculation is necessary. If mandating vaccine passports would help us in regulating the rollout of vaccines and mitigate the situation of the pandemic today, then I would agree on mandating the necessary passport of vaccination.”

But beyond the Miss Universe competition, what really are the issues of mandating vaccine passports in the Philippines?

Philippines mandating vaccine passports

The subject resurfaced when it was mentioned in the coveted Miss Universe 2021.

While some are unsatisfied with PH candidate “Bea” Gomez’s answer, there are those who posted their social media accounts to share their alternative answers.

Kabataan Partylist and National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) National President Jandeil Roperos took a different approach in answering the question.

“Comprehensive vaccination is very important and it is our right. However, while there are people who are unable to have the vaccine for health, religious, and cultural beliefs or other reasons, I think it is best not to mandate everyone for vaccine passport, but instead widen efforts in education drive,” she said.

She also emphasized making public health accessible for everyone before making vaccine cards compulsory.

In January of 2021, Health Department spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire stated in a media briefing that the Philippine government will issue a passport certifying an inoculated individual against COVID-19 to control borders.

Although she clarified that it is not yet mandatory, several are already against it as it may connote compulsory vaccination and discrimination against those who chose not to inoculate against COVID-19.

 “At some point, this herd immunity will never happen if people will make their decisions on their own, and we have enough Supreme Court cases to say there are times where you have to make that decision in favor of public health,” Sen. Pia Cayetano argued during the senate hearing on COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021.

There has also been a Senate discussion on the replacement of the terminology “vaccine passport” with “COVID-19 vaccine card” as the former may be interpreted as discriminatory according to Sen.  Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.

As a result, the authors and the sponsor of the “Vaccination Passport Program” selected the “vaccine card” as the alternative name.

While there are still no concrete policies on COVID-19 passports in the country, businesses are already requiring the presentation of vaccination card before dispensing service or entry to establishments.

Currently, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) notified all Local Government Units (LGU) to recognize and accept LGU-issued vaccination cards for domestic travel while VaxCertPH online portal is still in its soft launch.

Vaccine rollout, another issue

The Philippines only started vaccination in March this year, also plagued with many issues on supply shortage and delays of delivery in areas outside the country’s center.

With a long ladder of prioritization for vaccines, the rollout was slow and it took until the next half of the year when vaccines were almost available to anybody. This prioritization hierarchy put on top frontliners, senior citizens, those with comorbidities and essential workers in essential industries only or generally those who are allowed to work in businesses allowed to open during stricter quarantine or lockdown, and vaccination for these groups took around five months or more.

Non-essential workers and indigents—mostly ordinary Filipinos—were placed at the lower end of those who were offered the vaccine. A haunting visualization of a result of this schema was when the public stormed the malls and public vaccination sites after President Rodrigo Duterte said those who are unvaccinated cannot go out.

More supplies then came from donations from various countries—as many of the richest countries in the world had bought vaccine supplies more than twice their population. They are reaching their saturation or have achieved herd immunity, while

To speed up, the government’s pandemic response body, the Inter-Agency Task Force, held National Vaccination Days on November 29, November 30, and December 1. The government target during this period was five million Filipinos. It was able to vaccinate almost ten million from November 29 to December 3.

As of December 8, only 94 million of the population have been vaccinated. The government has yet to reach its year-ended target of 70% of the population for herd immunity, or its own target-setting of herd immunity placed at 70% of the 70% of the population.

This vaccination rate is the lowest in Asia.

Hiccups in VaxCertPH Web Portal

VaxCertPH of the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) is the country’s official vaccine certificate system.

It generates and authenticates the certificate holder’s vaccination status. It can also be used for international and domestic travel.

Under Republic Act No. 11525, also known as the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, the DOH along with the DICT is charged to create a digital process that would certify vaccine cards to every inoculated Filipino in the country.

After launching in September 2021, VaxCertPH online portal experiences hiccups in generating vaccine certificates.

Some vaccinated individuals reported delays and failure to secure certificates in the system.

The estimated 30% data backlog from LGUs is seen as the culprit for the delay in data entries for registrants.

DILG Undersecretary and Spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said that the program is not yet fully functional due to LGUs unreleased records in the Vaccine Operations Recording System (VORS).

“We urge all our LGUs to fast track the submission of their vaccination records and to assign more encoders so that the entire country can make use of the VaxCertPH program at the soonest possible time,” Malaya added.

Users also share their frustrations and complaints on erroneous data like wrong birthdays and wrong spelling of names.

For the time being, VaxCertPH is still on an initial rollout and is only available for NCR and Baguio residents.

The question remains: is the Philippines ready to mandate vaccine cards amid still low vaccination rate, fluctuating problems with the VaxCertPH web portal and the question on how this would mean for those who does not agree to be inoculated?


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